The History, 31.8

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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8Upon the melancholy termination of this battle, our men sought a retreat in the neighbouring city of Marcianopolis. The Goths, of their own accord, fell back behind the ramparts formed by their waggons, and for seven days they never once ventured to come forth or show themselves. So our soldiers, seizing the opportunity, raised a barrier, and shut in some other vast multitudes of the barbarians among the defiles of the Balkan, in hope, forsooth, that this destructive host being thus hemmed in between the Danube and the desert, and having no road by which to escape, must perish by famine, since everything which could serve to sustain life had been conveyed into the fortified cities, and these cities were safe from any attempt of the barbarians to besiege them, since they were wholly ignorant of the use of warlike engines.

2After this Richomeres returned to Gaul, to convey reinforcements to that country, where a fresh war of greater importance than ever, was anticipated. These events took place in the fourth consulship of Gratian, and the first of Merobaudes, towards the autumn of the year.

3In the mean time Valens, having heard of the miserable result of these wars and devastations, gave Saturninus the command of the cavalry, and sent him to carry aid to Trajan and Profuturus.

4At that time, throughout the whole countries of Scythia and Mœsia, everything which could be eaten had been consumed; and so, urged equally by their natural ferocity and by hunger, the barbarians made desperate efforts to force their way out of the position in which they were enclosed but though they made frequent attempts, they were constantly overwhelmed by the vigour of our men, who made an effectual resistance by the aid of the rugged ground which they occupied; and at last, being reduced to the extremity of distress, they allured some of the Huns and Alani to their alliance by the hope of extensive plunder.

5When this was known, Saturninus (for by this time he had arrived and was busy in arranging the outposts and military stations in the country) gradually collected his men, and was preparing to retreat, in pursuance of a sufficiently well-devised plan, lest the multitude of barbarians by some sudden movement (like a river which had burst its barriers by the violence of a flood) should easily overthrow his whole force, which had now been for some time watching the place from which danger was suspected.

6The moment that, by the seasonable retreat of our men, the passage of these defiles was opened, the barbarians, in no regular order, but wherever each individual could find a passage, rushed forth without hindrance to spread confusion among us; and raging with a desire for devastation and plunder, spread themselves with impunity over the whole region of Thrace, from the districts watered by the Danube, to Mount Rhodope and the strait which separates the Ægean from the Black Sea, spreading ravage, slaughter, bloodshed, and conflagration, and throwing everything into the foulest disorder by all sorts of acts of violence committed even on the freeborn.

7Then one might see, with grief, actions equally horrible to behold and to speak of: women panic-stricken, beaten with cracking scourges; some even in pregnancy, whose very offspring, before they were born, had to endure countless horrors: here were seen children twining round their mothers; there one might hear the lamentations of noble youths and maidens all seized and doomed to captivity.

8Again, grown-up virgins and chaste matrons were dragged along with countenances disfigured by bitter weeping, wishing to avoid the violation of their modesty by any death however agonizing. Here some wealthy nobleman was dragged along like a wild beast, complaining, of fortune as merciless and blind, who in a brief moment had stripped him of his riches, of his beloved relations, and his home; had made him see his house reduced to ashes, and had reduced him to expect either to be torn limb from limb himself, or else to be exposed to scourging and torture, as the slave of a ferocious conqueror.

9But the barbarians, like beasts who had broken loose from their cages, pouring unrestrainedly over the vast extent of country, marched upon a town called Dibaltum, where they found Barzimeres, a tribune of the Scutarii, with his battalion, and some of the Cornuti legion, and several other bodies of infantry pitching a camp, like a veteran general of great experience as he was.

10Instantly (as the only means of avoiding immediate destruction) he ordered the trumpet to give the signal for battle; and strengthening his flanks, rushed forward with his little army in perfect order. And he made so gallant a struggle, that the barbarians would have obtained no advantage over him, if a strong body of cavalry had not come round upon him from behind, while his men were panting and weary with their exertions: so at last he fell, but not without having inflicted great slaughter on the barbarians, though the vastness of their numbers made their losses less observed.

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